Empowering women: a story from Xuan Thuy National Park

11 November 2011 | Blogs

On October 26, 2011, I visited Xuan Thuy National Park in Nam Dinh Province to learn about a project to develop a co-management agreement between the park authorities and local clam collectors in the core zone of the park in order to both protect the rich resource base and benefit poor women. The project is being funded by the small grant facility of Mangroves for the Future (MFF), a partnership-led initiative to promote investment in coastal ecosystems. For more information about MFF, please visit: www.mangrovesforthefuture.org.

The project focuses on female clam collectors because they work in particularly tough conditions: they spend up 10 hours a day (sometimes overnight) soaked in mud and water and earn less than $5 a day. They are also the most vulnerable to changes in the rules governing access to the mud flats where the clams live.

During the visit, we talked to local women returning home after collecting clams. They all know that collecting clams in the middle of a protected area is against the law but they do so to survive. They have no choice. They agree on another thing: they don’t want their children doing this job.

Xuan Thuy was designated Vietnam’s first Ramsar Site in 1989. In the years after 1991, when Xuan Thuy was designated a nature reserve, there was little conflict with local people because the reserve management had no capacity to stop access to the reserve. It was essentially open-access. One result was that most of the mangroves were cleared for shrimp farming. But after Xuan Thuy was upgraded to a national park in 2003, law enforcement improved and conflicts increased. Despite more staff, however, the park authorities cannot stop hundreds of people a day entering the core zone. And because clams have been harvested out in many other parts of the Red River Delta, pressure on Xuan Thuy is increasing.

Rather than insist on a strict no-use policy, the park management has proposed the negotiation of a co-management agreement that would define in writing, for the first time, the rights and responsibilities of the local communities and park management. This “legalize and regulate” approach makes more sense than the previous one of refusing to engage local people because their actions are technically illegal.

The co-management agreement is an opportunity to ensure that clam harvesting does not exceed unsustainable limits and that the rights of women in terms of access to the clams and are formally protected. The park authorities will give priority to women in drafting the agreement and will train them in the use of clam harvesting methods that avoid unnecessary damage.

The women I talked to expressed interest in joining the project and willingness to organize themselves into a women’s group. They understand that a successful project is in their own best interests.

Debora Simon - Programme Officer - IUCN Vietnam